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Animated Edition - Summer 2004
Introducing Youth Dance England - connecting young people and dance
Linda Jasper the director of Youth Dance England outlines the remit of the organisation and the issues she hopes it will address in the coming months
Youth Dance England (YDE) is a new organisation to support and promote opportunities for young people in dance. The initiative to start this agency came from Arts Council England (ACE) working in collaboration with the Department for Education and Skills' (DfES) Music and Dance scheme that earmarked £300,000 over a three-year period (2003 - 2006) to invest in the project. Following an open tendering process I was invited to lead the organisation and started the work at the beginning of February 2004.

YDE will identify the full range of dance activities available to young people and seek to create new partnerships between those providing and supporting these activities: YDE will work across the arts, community, education, health and private sectors with the aim to position youth dance as innovative, transformative and committed to excellence and diversity. Ultimately the aim is to take an overview of the range of activities and the support mechanisms needed to develop and sustain the practice. A very important part of the work will be establishing new partnerships with government departments and funding bodies to achieve a higher profile for dance and young people.

The key aims of YDE's work:

  • Advocating the benefits of dance for young people nationally
  • Making information available to young people and practitioners across the country
  • Supporting training initiatives
  • Initiating high profile national projects and events
  • Making Youth Dance Activities more visible.

The growth in the dance sector from the 1980s has been immense, we could not have anticipated its development through the expansion of the funded dance client portfolio, introduction of national dance agencies, county and local dance agencies, more dance companies and increasing numbers of venues programming dance. It could be argued that resources have not kept pace with the broadening dance and culture agenda, which has created difficulty in sustaining youth dance programmes and the posts that support them. This is particularly relevant to Local Authority funding with the expansion of their briefs to embrace a broader definition of culture and more venues/clients to support, whilst at the same time, in many areas of the country, experiencing a reduction in their income. This has proved detrimental to the development of youth dance, and other participatory dance and arts programmes.

Dance in England has lagged behind other performing art forms in the UK where there are numerous established organisations to support young people's engagement with arts practice for example, the National Youth Music Agency (1999) and Scottish Youth Dance Theatre (1988) and National Youth Dance Wales (2000).

The National Youth Dance Trust (1983) ran the National Youth Dance Company for a group of young talented dancers, on an annual basis, over a number of years. YDE as part of its brief will support initiatives that provide opportunities for our most gifted and talented young dancers to continue this most important work of the NYDT.

All this development has created a very strong legacy for YDE to build upon with many advocates with personal experience of youth dance now in key dance roles/positions.

Current Situation
Since I came into post, I have prioritised visits to each of the regions to meet with various key bodies and individuals to ascertain level of provision, current practice and arising issues. I have been aware of the great enthusiasm for the project and also a keen commitment to be involved with the development of the work. There are many very passionate and skilled people engaged in the sector, and the range of people working in it is rich and diverse.

From the evidence gathered through existing information and this more recent investigation an overview of the sector can be summarised as follows.

An overview of the practice:

  • Youth dance practice is diverse, but YDE's focus is on out of school provision currently delivered through dance agencies, professional dance companies, independent practitioners and local authority arts departments, Creative Partnerships, youth services, schools/colleges, specialist schools and sports/leisure centres
  • The practice includes contemporary/creative dance, street dance, South Asian dance, African people's dance, national dance, ballet, folk dance, social dance etc. It is delivered in a variety of formats from weekly courses; drop in sessions, regular performance group class and rehearsals, intensive weekend and vacation projects
  • There is a growing focus on work with boys/young men, young people with disabilities (in specialist or integrated groups) and young people at risk
  • There is a massive increase in participation in street dance forms, with highly developed networks of performance, festival and commercial outlets. There is a skills shortage in areas such as African People's Dance and work with young people presenting challenging behaviour. Practitioners are concerned about the lack of progression opportunities for young people in street dance into choreographic practice and a wider engagement with other dance forms, particularly contemporary/creative dance.

Diversity in the sector creates vibrancy and difference, but also an uneven distribution of provision across the country. It is a lottery as to what is provided locally and the opportunities available for broad, regular and progressive engagement in dance is not available in many parts of the country.

Current legislation is also having an effect on the activity: changes in child protection, health and safety and disability legislation have resulted in an increased level of administration for practitioners.
Independent/freelance practitioners, have less administrative support, the consequence of this is the reduction in the amount of performances, exchanges and intensive projects delivered.

Ensuring quality
Ensuring quality experiences is an issue that is raised throughout the country, with inconsistencies in provision and problems in attracting and retaining dance practitioners, particularly outside of non-metropolitan areas.

One cannot underestimate the importance of sustained investment and effort in creating opportunities for generations of young people to receive quality dance experiences; this is often rooted in the work of individuals. For example the Manchester Youth Dance Company initiated in 1982 by Lynn Jordan, Head of the Dance Centre and Percy Rees, Head of Miles Platting Continuing Education Centre who employed Sue Moulson as Artistic Director to lead the company is still thriving under new artistic directorship twenty two years on, with the continuous support of Lynn Jordan. There are many other examples of individual commitment creating long-standing, quality dance programmes from a variety of contexts. Youth dance is usually best served when placed within regularly funded organisations whether they lay in the education, local authority, or arts sectors.

The sector has a broad spectrum of funding sources. Youth dance activity is not consistently supported through regular, public funding, apart from where it exists as a part of the programme of revenue funded dance organisations and specialist schools' community outreach programmes. The work relies on project funding or voluntary 'in kind' assistance that has made youth dance development too heavily reliant on short-term projects, resulting in lack of cohesive planning and progressive opportunities for young people.

Practitioners have taken the opportunity to attract resources from the new funding streams, especially from 'social inclusion' sources, for their work. For some, this has proved fruitful but for many part-time or freelancers without administrative back up, it is prohibitive for them to apply for and deal with the rigorous accounting systems required by these schemes.

Regional and local co-ordination
Activities tend to be locally generated and are not in the main regionally co-ordinated. Where there is a co-ordinated approach this tends to be at county/unitary authority level. For example Ludus Dance Company (a dance agency based in Lancaster and part of the NW National Dance Agency) organises the Lancashire youth dance programme involving thirteen groups across the county supported by a web site and interactive e pages.

There are at present only two regional co-ordinators (part time), in London and the South East. The London post is project funded by ACE until July 2004, after which time further funding is required for it to continue, the SE post is supported in the short term on a very part time basis by the national dance agency. The absence of regional co-ordination has been detrimental to the growth of the sector. It has led to a lack of networking, continuing professional development and programme co-ordination, it has meant that there are fewer progression routes and ultimately reduced the capacity to take advantage of national initiatives.

I am in the process of identifying individuals in the regions to be my key point of contact and provide a mechanism where information can flow between Youth Dance England and the youth dance programmes on the ground.

The practitioners who deliver the work tend to be trained in dance to graduate level, but do not necessarily hold specific qualifications to work with young people in a teaching/leading role. There are also group leaders/teachers that have a more limited exposure to formal dance educational and training, especially in peer led groups.

The most secure posts and highly trained practitioners tend to be within regularly funded dance organisations and local authorities. The development of the sector will require a combination of the training of more specialist practitioners and an increased amount of work opportunities. In general there is a need to invest in the professionalisation of the sector.

New opportunities for the sector
We work in a swiftly changing political climate where many opportunities are emerging for the sector:

The Advanced Training Scheme - initiated through the DfES's Music and Dance scheme a programme has been established to benefit gifted and talented young people through the provision of non-residential, pre-vocational training in dance, which can be delivered closer to home. Two pilot projects have begun in London (London School of Contemporary Dance) and Leeds (Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Northern Ballet Theatre) during the Easter vacation, 2004. This programme will be expanded to cover the country over the next ten years.

YDE aims to ensure the widest section of young people is included in the scheme and increasing the connections, where appropriate, between the scheme and local dance groups so that the dance infrastructure is strengthened.

Increased resources should become more available as government agendas shift to target dance as a means of addressing health issues such as obesity and recognising the contribution that dance can play in engaging people to improve educational attainment and reduce criminal offending etc.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is investing funding in a strategy (Physical Education School Sport and Club Links - PESSCL) to improve links between specialist sports schools and youth dance to increase opportunities for young people to participate in physical activity and encourage progression. A new project - Dance Links - funded through this strategy managed by National Dance Teacher's Association and YDE will seek to improve the links between schools and youth dance provision. The project will run for two years from September 2004 and will involve action research, identification of case studies and a publication to give information on how to create and sustain links.

The opportunities for addressing the potential for the instrumental use of dance is now beginning to be matched by an increased focus on cultural entitlement: the arts as a right for everyone to participate in the arts for their own sake. (1)

Issues for the sector
To summarise the following key issues need to be addressed:

  • Unsustainability of work due to the lack of sustained and regular funding and the consequent impact on attracting and retaining skilled practitioners
  • Lack of regional co-ordination that limits opportunities to maximise resources and develop practice
  • Challenge of achieving high artistic standards whilst addressing wider agendas
  • Restricted access to dance programmes due to inconsistency in geographical spread and availability of transport in rural and suburban areas
  • Isolation of practitioners and youth dance groups that impacts on the advancement of practice and continuing professional development
  • In many areas limited opportunities to perform and share practice
  • Few opportunities for young people to progress and develop their practice.

In order to begin to address some of these development areas certain initiatives have been identified as high priority by the practitioners I have met.

Conference: to bring together the sector to discuss issues, share models of good practice and learn from other youth/arts organisations. The first conference will be held, during a large scale youth dance weekend event at The South Bank, January 22nd and 23rd 2005, organised jointly with London Youth Dance Network, YDE and the Royal Festival Hall. Booking opens in October 2004.

National dance performance and workshop opportunities: to bring together groups to workshop and perform in high profile events. The first performance will be in July 2005 with a view to instigate intensive residential workshop from 2006 for groups and their leaders to explore and challenge practice.

Partnership schemes: To expand provision in the sector and attract new funding through working with schools, youth offending teams, health and social services sectors for long-term investment in youth dance development.

Practitioner Training: Research has begun to map the current provision and this will form the basis of a strategy for increasing uptake on existing programmes and stimulating new schemes where needed.

Youth Leadership: Training for young people to take on leadership roles through creating and disseminating training models. Youth Dance ambassadors will be identified who can advocate for dance, represent their local area and contribute to national events.

We all know the benefits of dance for and with young people; it is time that we worked together to attract the level of support needed to make provision available to all young people.

1. Tessa Jowell - Government and the Value of Culture, Published by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (May 2004))

For more information contact Youth Dance England, 36 Battersea Square, London, SW11 3RA. Telephone: 020 7924 7167 or email

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Animated: Summer 2004